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Strategies & Market Trends : World Outlook

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From: Don Green6/16/2024 5:24:09 PM
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Opinion | A Voter Revolt Grows in California

Opinion by WSJ The Editorial Board

We’ve told you about California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lawsuit to block a citizen initiative from this November’s ballot that would make it harder to raise taxes. Now his Legislature is trying to sabotage another initiative that would toughen penalties for theft and drug crimes. Why do Democrats fear voters?

Law enforcement, businesses and local elected officials across the Golden State are campaigning to roll back parts of Prop. 47. That’s the 2014 initiative that made misdemeanors of drug possession and theft of less than $950 in goods. Supporters including Mr. Newsom said it would save money by reducing incarceration.

The George Soros-backed initiative cut the state prison count, but Californians are paying a high price. Organized criminals exploit the law’s lax penalties. District attorneys say Prop. 47 prevents them from leveraging the penalty of jail time to induce addicts into treatment. Police often don’t arrest thieves or drug users because the crimes go unpunished. Retail theft, vagrancy and open-air drug use have spiked.

Thus the citizen initiative, which would toughen penalties for shoplifters and drug dealers. Someone with two prior convictions for theft could be charged with a felony on the third offense no matter the amount. The value of stolen property from multiple thefts could be combined for a felony charge.

The initiative would also make possessing fentanyl while carrying a loaded firearm a felony. Dealers could be charged with homicide if their clients overdose. Prosecutors would have the discretion to charge drug possession as a felony after two prior drug convictions. To avoid jail and expunge the charge, drug users could get treatment and would receive shelter and job training.

California’s secretary of state last week announced the initiative had received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But legislative leaders are now plotting to kill the initiative with political misdirection. Democrats are advancing a package of bills to assuage public anger about surging crime. One would let courts issue restraining orders against thieves, as if this would stop them. Another would toughen penalties for organized criminals who steal more than $50,000 in goods.

Some of the legislation would help at the margin, though it would do little to help drug addicts or crack down on shoplifters not part of crime syndicates. The Democratic goal is to appear as if they are doing something about crime without enacting substantive reforms.

Yet in a bizarre twist, Democrats last week threatened to blow up their own legislation by inserting language in the bills that would render them void if voters pass the Prop. 47 reform. Why would they do this? Because they plan to tell voters that the initiative would nullify the Legislature’s “smarter” anti-crime measures. Imagine how much better managed the state would be if Democrats put half as much thought into fixing problems as they do into conning voters.

***Separately, the state Supreme Court last month heard arguments in Mr. Newsom’s lawsuit to remove the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act from the November ballot. The initiative would require a majority of voters to approve taxes adopted by the Legislature. Both the Legislature and voters would have to approve regulatory action that increases state revenue. Charges for specific government services or products like fishing licenses would have to reflect the actual cost of providing the service or product. The initiative would also raise the threshold for localities to pass all special taxes to two-thirds.

Democrats say the initiative would harm essential services and the ability to respond to emergencies—by which they mean budget shortfalls caused by excessive spending. California faces a $45 billion deficit while many localities bleed red ink owing to ballooning pension payments.

Mr. Newsom last month pledged not to raise taxes, but his regulators are advancing a refinery tax and tightening climate mandates to increase revenue. The initiative would forbid this. Democrats sued to block it because they are scared of a voter revolt a la Prop. 13 in 1978, which capped property taxes and required a legislative super-majority to raise taxes.

A new Public Policy Institute of California survey shows that 71% of likely voters say they pay more in taxes than they should. That’s by far the largest share in the 21 years that the question has been asked. A record 56% also said they’d prefer to pay lower taxes and have fewer services. Disapproval of Mr. Newsom also hit a new high.

Californians are fed up with the state’s high taxes, which has bought them nothing but government dysfunction. Instead of trying to dupe and disenfranchise voters, how about listening to them?


Opinion | A Voter Revolt Grows in California © Jessica Christian/Associated Press
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